Rebecca Adlington: Baking has helped me get through the challenges of homeschooling and pregnancy during the pandemic

Olympian Rebecca Adlington has found lockdown a challenge.Olympian Rebecca Adlington has found lockdown a challenge.
Olympian Rebecca Adlington has found lockdown a challenge.

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As she gets ready for maternity leave, former Olympic swimmer Becky Adlington tells Abi Jackson how cupcakes and dog-walks are keeping her calm.

Rebecca Adlington is reflecting on lockdown. “I can’t keep looking at screens,” she declares with a laugh. “First lockdown, people were having like four or five Zoom quizzes a week. It was like, ‘I can’t do another quiz! I just can’t for my own mental health!’”

She is hugely grateful technology means we can stay in touch with loved ones though. “I really, really miss my family,” Adlington, 31, shares. “It’s all been about balance,” she adds. “Staying in touch but also not making it feel like a chore. Just checking in, because we all have good and bad days, don’t we? Some days it’s like, you know what, I’m staying in my PJs today.”

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It’s been a busy start to 2021 for Manchester-based Adlington, who is expecting a baby boy with boyfriend Andy Parsons in February. “Neither of us was furloughed, so Andy and I have been working the whole time, and lots of stuff was booked in for January before I go on maternity leave – and then schools closed,” says Adlington, who also has daughter Summer, five, with ex-husband Harry Needs. “So it’s been one of those months, trying to cram everything in.”

Rebecca Adlington and daughter Summer.Rebecca Adlington and daughter Summer.
Rebecca Adlington and daughter Summer.

The former Olympic swimmer (Adlington scooped four medals during her swim Olympic career, including two golds, before retiring at 23 to focus on TV work and other projects) now keeps busy with her SwimStars and Training programmes, part of the Olympic-led Sporting House group.

Pools closing has been “really difficult”, she says. “But we’ve run loads of content online and sent out packs in the post, awards for kids to take part in, Saturday morning shake-ups and stuff to keep them active.”

Here, Adlington tells us more about being pregnant in lockdown, finding calm in baking, and why balance is key…

How have you been finding homeschooling with Summer?

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“Summer’s only five, it would be very different if she was older – I don’t envy those carers sat there doing algebra and long equations! I’d struggle with that. It is really hard though. But Summer is ace, we read with her, do writing and spelling – and I can actually do her maths, so that’s fine!”

Kids can teach us so much about being adaptable and resilient – is that something you’ve found?

“Oh gosh, totally. One thing changes in an adult’s life and you have a bit of a flap, don’t you? It’s amazing how well kids have adapted. If I’m having a day where I’m feeling a bit sad for myself, where you’re like, ‘I miss my family and I miss having things to do’ and you’re just a bit annoyed about everything going on, it’s really nice – Summer just doesn’t question anything. She’s like, ‘Mummy, the virus’, and just cracks on. And that’s really good, as much as it is hard too, because I do appreciate every family out there is going through a really tough time.”

Have you been missing swimming with pools closed?

“Really missing it. Summer has too. When pools reopened for a while last year, the first week, I think we went three times, I was just desperate to get back in. Now that I’m eight months pregnant, I probably wouldn’t be doing as much anyway, but Summer is really missing it and missing her friends.”

How have you been keeping active?

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“To be honest, when I wasn’t so pregnant, I managed to stay on top of things, doing home workouts. There was so much online, it was brilliant. I was going out for runs, we taught Summer to ride a bike and were going for bike rides as a family, just staying really active. And I kept up the gym right up until before Christmas when they closed again.

“So far in January I’ve really struggled; I’m finding the online stuff is not so catered to me in the third trimester, so I’ve just been trying to get out for walks. I’m at that stage where I get so out of breath now, [my bump] is so massive. But I’m like, you know what, lockdown’s back, I’m eight months pregnant, it feels like this was really the time to just back off a bit and focus on getting ready, focus on my health and getting out for walks, so that’s what I’ve been doing. Taking the dogs out, having some fresh air and seeing different surroundings, I’ve found really helpful.”

There’s been a lot of extra anxiety for people going through pregnancy during the pandemic – how have you found it?

“I think it’s hard for everyone. It’s been hard for partners too – I feel really sorry for Andy, he’s not been allowed to come to one appointment, not one scan or midwife appointment, so I think it’s harder for dads to feel involved. I’ve booked us some online antenatal classes because I just want him to be involved, and so he can ask the questions he wants to ask, so that will be nice.

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“The biggest anxiety I’ve got is over the birth, just not knowing exactly what will be allowed, how long Andy will be able to be there, whether I’ll be alone. Because it’s so unpredictable, the birthing process, what if something happens and I’m on my own? That’s what I’m worried about. I’m trying not to let it terrify me or overthink it, because there’s nothing I can do. But it’s just one of those things that’s very hard.”

It sounds like your daily walks really help – is there anything else you’ve been finding beneficial?

“I’ve found baking really calms me down. You’ve got to follow a recipe, manage the time or whatever, it just kind of pulls me out of anything I’m feeling, and then I’m just focused on the baking.

“We recently had a kitchen renovation done so it’s so nice being back in it. I’ve baked every couple of days. It’s all cupcakes and stuff, and this morning I massively over-complicated things by saying I’m going to make four different flavours. Then I’m like, ‘Oh god Becky, I don’t know why you have to make it so hard!’ But it was lovely and I enjoyed it – and they taste delicious.”

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Lots of people have talked about the pressure to be super-productive in lockdown – how have you found all that?

“I think it depends how bored you are. One of my friends hasn’t been able to work and they’ve found it really difficult. My parents redecorated their house – but they’re retired, they’ve got nothing else to do. Fair enough, if that’s going to get you through it.

“I think it’s about accepting everyone is different, and everyone has their own time, so don’t judge. Let people find their own path through, without putting pressure on stuff. It’s unknown for everyone, whether you’re in sport, a parent, whatever. It’s about finding the way through that’s best for you.”

Is there a particular way you like to approach life and keeping well?

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“I’ve always just lived by the pattern of moderation and balance. I like balance in everything, whether that’s diet, work-life balance, having my own time – there’s ‘mum Becky’, ‘work Becky’, there’s just so many different things you can have going on, I think life is about finding that right balance for you.

“And that balance will shift – sometimes you’ll want a heavier workload, sometimes you won’t. Sometimes you’ll want more ‘me time’, sometimes you won’t, that balance is constantly shifting. I’ve always tended to live by that. It’s got me so far, so I think it’s helped!”

To find out more about Becky Adlington’s SwimStars, visit

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